The Baked Potato by Firewire
It appears the zenith of grovel boards has been reached. Sometime in the last two years boards designed for 1 to 3 foot waves reached their most extreme dimensions: widest, shortest, thickest. And now, with the knowledge gained from that experimentation the pendulum seems to be swinging back ever so slightly.
In 2012 I reviewed the Sweet Potato by Firewire which at the time was both the shortest board I'd ever ridden and the widest (5'3” x 23”). At the time it was a revelation. The accepted wisdom said that the only functional craft in one foot waves was a longboard, yet here was a board half the length of a regular longboard catching waves with just as much ease.
It may have been a revelation yet it wasn't without its hangups; the Sweet Potato caught waves easily but the outsized dimensions restricted performance once upon them. The latest potato out of the Firewire factory is the Baked Potato, it serves the same role but has refined it in certain areas.
The most obvious change is the planshape. Where the Sweet Potato was bulbous the Baked Potato has some semblance of a traditional surfboard shape. The nose is semi-pointed and there's a tad more curve in the outline. The width has been brought in a touch and, most importantly, some volume taken out of the rails.
As with all super short boards the Baked Potato almost forces the rider to crouch while riding. Not a full crouch a la Dekka Hynd riding finless, but hunched nonetheless, weight distributed evenly across the centre of the board. In part this is due to the short rail line but also the necessary frantic movements needed to get going in the small stuff.
One of the Baked Potato's distinguishing features are the deep double concave through the back half of the board. Between the concaves are a pronounced vee running down the stringer like a spine. It's the key for transforming frantic pumping into lift and down the line speed. The Baked Potato is a frenetically fast little board.
Turning, however, is not one of the board's strong suits. There's very little rocker so it doesn't naturally lead into turns. Put it on edge and the board loses speed quickly, often decelerating towards a bogged rail. There must be a sweet spot there...somewhere, though after a month of riding it still remained elusive. Replacing rail turns with quick pivoting snaps avoided the worst of the flaw, the Baked Potato likes to be handled with a lighter touch. Riding it as a thruster instead of a quad put some predictability back into its turns, but unfortunately with three fins it was slower and that ain't what's wanted in a groveller.
The difference in performance between quad and thruster is obvious on the Baked Potato. It was more centred in thruster mode, more stable, but undoubtedly slower. As a quad there was an “information gap,” as Steve Shearer calls it, when going rail to rail. A split second where the centre line couldn't be felt and the board needed to be piloted on instinct; you needed to trust that the slip would turn to grip and henceforth into speed. It's a feeling you can learn to like.
The Baked Potato is a good board for tiny wave surfing, for building speed on waves that would otherwise struggle to project a surfer shoreward. Just keep it tilted toward the horizontal and let the rails skim not sink.